Acquiring a killer repertoire while building great bass technique
By Jon Liebman
May 27, 2022
Learning bass, like anything else, is a lot more fun if the method you use to do it is enjoyable.
Think about this: You want to learn bass because you want to play music. So why not start by learning to play stuff that you like?
Learning new bass skills by learning new music
Chances are, every new thing you learn on the bass will require a new skill. And if that’s the case, you can be learning a new song and acquiring a new skill at the same time.
Sound good so far?
Next, move on to another song, which will likely require another new skill, and add that to your arsenal. Continue the process and pretty soon you’ll see that, little by little, you’re amassing a growing repertoire of songs – music you like – and learning great bass technique at the same time. How cool is that!
I got to thinking about this during an amazing conversation I had with my old friend Mike Pope recently, published as this week’s FBPO interview. As luck would have it, I bumped into Mike at Berklee College of Music in Boston when my wife and I were there for our son’s senior recital (congratulations, Adam!).
Mike’s such a great player, not to mention an incredible educator, that I just had to share some of his thoughts with you. They’ll definitely provide a huge boost to anyone who wants to learn to play the bass.
Perfect for bass players of all levels
One thing that makes Mike’s advice especially beneficial is that it works for bass students at any level, and any age.
“When I’m teaching a young student,” Mike says, “I’m always very reticent to say, ‘Here’s how you play this thing, and there’s how you play that thing.’ From the general to the specific, I try to introduce people to an overview of the skills that are needed and what’s supposed to be. And we deal with one thing at a time.”
And Mike’s modus operandi is… learn songs!
Building repertoire and technique, together
“I think the big key is repertoire,” he says. “Learn as many tunes as you can, songs that you like, the ones that you want to play. Learn ‘em really well and one by one, just start to amass repertoire.”
By following Mike’s advice and learning more songs, you can’t get help but improve your bass technique at the same time.
“Kind of treat it almost like a classical education,” Mike says, “in the sense of, you take the piece of repertoire that will garner the skills that you need to have in order to do it. And then you get that one out of the way and then you go on to the next tune that requires other skills that you need, work on that one. And pretty soon the gaps fill in and you become a more well-rounded player.”
I love this concept! It’s so obvious. But be honest: Have you ever looked at learning bass that way? Try it. Pick something you want to play. Anything. If it pushes you out of your comfort zone, that’s great. Figure out what you need to do to in order to play it and you’ll become a better player in the process.
Groove while learning
Of course, if you’re a student in the Bottom Line Club, learning bass right here at For Bass Players Only, I’m sure you recognized how this methodology fits right in to my “groove while learning” framework of bass instruction. Hopefully, you understand it a little better now and can incorporate it even deeper into what you’re learning.
So the next time you feel bogged down about having to practice certain technical exercises because you’re “supposed to,” or because they’re “good for you,” take a step back and look at things from the 30,000-foot view. You’re learning bass because you want to play music. Playing music means playing songs. So learn as many songs as you can. How can you go wrong?
I’m pretty sure Mike’s got your number too. “I think that for guys that just want to have fun,” he says, “and be able to function as a weekend warrior or whatever, I really think that just knowing as much material as you can know is the big key.”
Keep this thought process top of mind in your quest for learning bass and watch what happens. Leave a comment below and let me know how you think this approach can affect your playing, your attitude, and your bass skills. I’d love to know your thoughts. In the meantime, watch my interview with Mike here.
What if I’m a jazz, blues, swing, “American Songbook” older guy? I’m not going to be playing rock-riffs. How will your course of instruction help me progress?
Hi, Greg! When you join the Bottom Line Club, you’ll have unlimited, “all you can eat access” to all my lessons. You’ll find complete courses in Jazz, Blues, Soul, and many others, including an entire course for Upright Bass! There are also courses covering “Bassics,” Scales & Theory, Building Bass Lines, Sight Reading, Soloing, and more. You’ll be following a step-by-step path, with specific action items and milestones for achieving your bass-playing goals. Thanks for asking, Greg! Let me know if you have any more questions.